In Cologne, the sensual and cosmic art of Isamu Noguchi, unclassifiable sculptor

On the scale of the object as well as the landscape, the organic work of the American-Japanese sculptor Isamu Noguchi is presented in a large retrospective at the Ludwig Museum in Cologne, the first in Europe in twenty years.

Until 31 July, the Ludwig Museum in Cologne is hosting a major retrospective of Isamu Noguchi’s work (1904-1988), one of the greatest sculptors of the 20th century, best known to the general public for its famous lamps. Akari i washi papir. The exhibition, the first of its scale, organized in Europe for more than 20 years, explores in 150 works all facets of this Protestant creator. It will be presented in the spring of 2023 at the LaM – Little Métropole Museum of Modern Art, Contemporary Art and Art Brut in Villeneuve d’Ascq.


A unique visual language

The exhibition opens with several sculptural heads in terracotta, wood and bronze. Those from the Mexican painter José Clemente Orozco, by the American choreographer Martha Graham, by a young Japanese girl … Among these an uninvited guest: an elongated face in bakelite. In fact, a baby alarm from 1937, Radio Nurse.

Isamu Noguchi Chessboard (IN-61), 1944 Noguchi Museum Archive, 00856 © Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2022 Photo: Kevin Noble

Isamu Noguchi, Chessboard (IN-61), 1944 Noguchi Museum Archive © The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2022 Photo: Kevin Noble

These different heads reveal the many facets of the American of Japanese origin Isamu Noguchi, a sculptor who has made remarkable inroads into design and the performing arts, a designer inspired by mineral gardens and playgrounds for children. ” Although Isamu Noguchi works interdisciplinary and has been active in various fields, he has a unique visual language. I find it fascinating that it oscillates between the technoid and the organic, and that it is also characterized by architecture. I also like the way he treats the landscape observes museum director Ludwig Yilmaz Dziewior.

Akari lamps displayed at the Kagawa Museum, Takamatsu, Japan, 1953. Models 27N, 2N, BB3-70FF, BB2-S1 14A, BB1-YA1, 31N © The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2022 Photo: Lent by the Kagawa Museum

Akari lamps displayed at the Kagawa Museum, Takamatsu, Japan, 1953. Models 27N, 2N, BB3-70FF, BB2-S1 14A, BB1-YA1, 31N © The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2022 Photo: Lent by the Kagawa Museum

At the Brancusi School

Brancusi’s former assistant in Paris in 1927, who for decades collaborated with the American inventor Buckminster Fuller, is also the designer ofInterlocking sculptures whose shape evokes the human body made up of elements that fit together without any attachment.

Viewing the exhibition

Exhibition of the exhibition “Isamu Noguchi” at Museum Ludwig, Cologne, 2022 © Isamu Noguchi Foundation and the Garden Museum / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2022 Photo: Guido Schiefer

So many organic forms that can be found both in his famous coffee table egg-shaped design for Herman Miller in 1944 only in his large sculptures installed in the public space of Miami (Bayfront Park1980-96), Hokkaido (Black Side Mantra, 1988-89) or its gardens (Japanese Garden of Unesco, 1956-58). A space of peace that this committed artist, a stranger to the United States and Japan because of his dual identity, called for.

Isamu Noguchi test

Isamu Noguchi tests “Slide Mantra” at the US pavilion at the Venice Biennale 1986, The Noguchi Museum Archives, 144398 © The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2022 Photo: Michio Noguchi

In a desert in Arizona

Following the Japanese attack on the Pearl Harbor military port in 1941, more than 100,000 U.S. citizens of Japanese descent were placed in internment camps on the west coast of the United States. Although living in New York at the time, Isamu Noguchi was voluntarily interned in a camp in the Arizona desert to help improve conditions for the detainees, but his artistic proposals were not implemented.

Isamu Noguchi My Arizona, 1943 The Noguchi Museum Archives, 00071 © The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2022 Photo: Kevin Noble

Isamu Noguchi, My Arizona, 1943, The Noguchi Museum Archives © The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2022 Photo: Kevin Noble

Between suffering and shame, this son of a Japanese poet whom he never knew will also design a memorial project for the victims of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima, which will eventually be rejected because of his American nationality. Museum Ludwig retrospective comes at the right time to correct the outrage by exhibiting his unrealized projects, especially Sculpture to be seen from Mars, Memorial for man (1947). A monumental geometric face to be made in a desert of sand.

Viewing the exhibition

Exhibition of the exhibition “Isamu Noguchi” at Museum Ludwig, Cologne, 2022 © Isamu Noguchi Foundation and the Garden Museum / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2022 Photo: Guido Schiefer


Isamu Noguchi
Ludwig Museum, Cologne (Germany)
https://www.museum-ludwig.de/en.html
from March 26 to July 31

LaM – Small Métropole Museum of Modern Art, Contemporary Art and Art Brut, Villeneuve d’Ascq
from March 17 to July 2, 2023

Leave a Comment